My father-in-law died late on Wednesday night. He was 90 and lived every one of those years with passion. I remember meeting him for the first time 15 years ago, and being struck initially by his age but also by his energy and drive. The man could charm anyone: I remember him deep in conversation with my Uncle Forrest, swapping stories, and being struck by how natural it was for this son of Italian immigrants from Pennsylvania coal country to converse with my very Southern uncle.
Al always engaged everything he came across with curiosity and humor. I remember hearing the story about his first drive through the south–it was the middle of World War II, and he, as a petroleum engineer, was heading to the Gulf to contribute to the war effort by working at a refinery. He stopped somewhere in the deep south for breakfast and placed an order. The waitress asked if he wanted grits. Of course, he had no idea what grits were, but didn’t want to be impolite, so said, “Yeah, I guess I’ll have one or two.” There were many stories that he told over and over again, but I never tired of that one–it said a lot about his sense of adventure.
Most of all, I remember sitting around a lot of tables with him. Even to the end, he loved food and drink, and would always ask for his wine glass to be refilled– “Poco, poco“–look and wink, and say, “Quando festa, festa.” I think those are some pretty good words to live by.